Polar bears are listed under a variety of classifications depending on international, national, and regional regulations. Internationally, they are listed as a vulnerable species by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Russia, polar bears are classified as a Red Data Book species, a listing that includes animals considered rare or endangered. In the U.S., polar bears are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act Canada considers polar bears a species of special concern under the National Species at Risk Act. On a regional level in Canada, polar bears are listed as threatened in both Manitoba and Ontario under provincial endangered species legislation.

In all cases, the primary conservation concern for polar bears is habitat loss and reduced access to their seal prey due to climate change. Scientists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century. Research also shows that hope remains if action is taken to greatly reduce carbon emissions soon.

While rapid loss of sea ice is the primary threat to the polar bear’s long-term survival, other challenges include pollution, increased commercial and industrial activity in the Arctic, overharvest, disease, and inadequate habitat protection (denning and seasonal resting areas).

At the 2014 meeting of the PBSG, the world’s leading polar bear scientists reported that of the 19 subpopulations of polar bears, three were declining, six were stable, and one was increasing. They lacked sufficient data on the status of the remaining nine.